What Are My Lymphedema Surgery Options After a Lymphedema Diagnosis?

istock_000056555972_full-resize-compressorLymphedema can be a painful complication of breast cancer treatment, in which lymph nodes were either surgically removed or radiated. In Houston lymphedema patients, the lymphatic and circulatory systems do not function properly, and lymph fluid collects in the arms, rather than draining normally. The results are a swollen arm that is noticeably larger and heavier than usual. While there are currently no cures for lymphedema, lymphedema surgery can significantly decrease the symptoms.

Both physicians Dr. Fusi & Dr. Craig have traveled from Houston to France to study under Dr. Corrine Becker, a world-renown lymphedema surgery expert. As a result of this specialized training, both Dr. Fusi & Dr. Craig can offer Houston patients two different types of lymphedema surgeries: lymphedema bypass and vascularized lymph node transfer. Read on to learn the difference between these two lymphedema surgery options.

Lymphedema Bypass

Lymphedema bypass, or lypmphovenous bypass as it is sometimes called, is a procedure that includes bypassing exiting lymph pathways for new channels created through microsurgery. During a lymphedema bypass, you will be placed under general anesthesia. Then, an indocyanine green dye will be injected into your affected arm to illuminate your existing lymph pathways. Dr. Fusi or Dr. Craig will then make an incision in your affected arm at the location of viable venules and lymphatics in the area. Using advanced microsurgical techniques, Dr. Fusi or Dr. Craig will then suture lymphatics and venules, thus creating new pathways for your excess lymph fluid to drain. The incision will then be closed with efforts made to minimize any scarring.

Recovery from lymphedema bypass is relatively straightforward. Houston patients must loosely wrap the compression site, elevate the arm, and take a course of antibiotics to prevent infection. Within a few months after the procedure, patients typically notice decreased size and volume in the arm and feel less pain.

Vascularized Lymph Node Transfer

The second kind of lymphedema surgery available to Houston breast cancer patients is vascularized lymph node transfer. With this procedure, patients are placed under general anesthesia. Then, Dr. Fusi or Dr. Craig will remove a healthy lymph node and its blood supply, and place it in the affected arm. In the case of upper extremity lymphedema (lymphedema in the arm), this typically involves removing a lymph node from the groin and then transferring it via microsurgery to the underarm.

With this type of lymphedema surgery, it typically takes several weeks to months for Houston patients to regrow the lymphatic channels that drain excess lymph fluid. Once those new channels do grow, you may notice a reduction in the size of the arm affected with lymphedema, less frequent infections due to the proper drainage of lymph fluid and lower instances of cellulitis.

I Think I Need Lymphedema Surgery. What Do I Do Now?

If you suspect you have lymphedema as a result of your breast cancer treatment, it’s important that you notify your doctor immediately. Then, reach our to Dr. Fusi & Dr. Craig in their Houston office at 713-322-6073 to discuss your lymphedema surgery options.